Some Notes On Wilderness Amen

As I've probably already mentioned elsewhere, all the writing, recording and production of all the music I've made since 2017 started with "Running."


It's not a particularly interesting story, to be honest. There's nothing mystical or special about the song itself, for that matter. I mean, I like it a lot: it's fun to play, it's got a few of my favorite lyrics that I've written in it, and it recounts a few experiences from my past (indirectly) that are great memories. But otherwise, it's a pretty straightforward folk song. There was something about the process of writing it, though, quickly and satisfyingly, that convinced me that I should spend the following twelve months or so writing more songs whenever possible. So I did.


It's no accident, then, that "Running" is the first song on the first album of a loose cycle of four albums: Wilderness Amen, Ride, Maps, and Fire and Rain. As the beginning of the cycle, this album is meant to serve as an awakening, a spring, and an amen.


To the "big three" monotheistic religions, "amen" serves as a confirmation, an affirmation, and in a way I guess this album could be those things. But I'm also a big fan of the apocryphal theory that "amen" derives from the name of the Egyptian god Amun, who was the god of air and breath. In this admittedly heretical derivation (because a word in the Bible couldn't come from Egypt, I guess), "amen" is also a word for, or perhaps the sound of, an exhalation. The moment before action. The peace before a storm. The deep breath before the plunge, to paraphrase another lower-"g" god.


Considering where the album cycle ends up (the apocalyptic cacophony of "Fire and Rain" > "(Rise)"), this album is meant to be the "fun" one. It's meant to capture a bit of that feeling of late spring and early summer, when it feels like anything is possible and every moment is on the cusp of blossoming into something new and exciting. Of the four albums, Wilderness Amen is the one that I think sounds the most like my pre-Asphalt Ghosts recordings, the ones influenced most heavily by 60s-era Dylan and modern folk singers like Mason Jennings. I kept the song structures and the arrangements fairly simple. The lyrics (I hope!) skew toward the uplifting, and are mostly about the transcendent joy of satisfying your wanderlust, and, ultimately, still getting home in time for dinner. Those themes turn a bit darker and more complex as the album cycle progresses, sure, but this album intentionally ends with "Amen," an instrumental meant to serve as a thematic coda and a reminder that, for now at least, all you need to do is breathe, and maybe keep an eye to the horizon to catch the appearance of the first star of the night.


As a proponent of the whole "death of the author" idea, I don't want to tell you what to think about each and every aspect of the album, because that would ruin the fun, but a few things you might find fun to know about Wilderness Amen, in closing...


Technically, the stolen shoes were stolen, but I didn't actually directly take them from anyone. And in my defense, I was literally about to die from heatstroke at the time, so I wasn't exactly thinking clearly.


"Better To Have Loved" -> "Cassie's Song" > "Millie" is one of my oldest song sequences, but I'd never recorded the entire suite in a way I actually liked until this album.


"Millie" is close to my heart for a lot of reasons, but one is because it's the only song I've ever been asked by an audience member to play again immediately after finishing. The encore of that show was literally just "Millie" and then "Millie" again. I did change the quoted verse from "Shelter From the Storm" the second time through, though, because why not?


"Idyll" was written about Donald Trump's Presidency and conversations I had with friends at the time about what did and didn't justify physical resistance to an oppressive regime. It was originally titled "Idyll #22," but I decided that was ridiculous.


Josh Ritter is one of my favorite songwriters, for his rapid-fire lyrics and his many references to other great works of art in his songs. "Jezebel" was my attempt to write a Josh Ritter song.


"Neal, Joan, and Me" is a more autobiographical song than most of my songs. Only the names were changed to protect the innocent. "Neal" ends up being a recurring character in a lot of the album cycle songs, and he's still a good friend in real life to this day. "Joan" and I went our separate ways eventually, but for good reasons.


"Machine of the Universe" combines a few of the most sublime, awe-inspiring experiences I've had in the wilderness into one song about alpine climbing in the middle of the night, which is an absolute blast if you've never done it.


"Sleep Well, Beast" is an instrumental eulogy for my dog Charley, who died during the album sessions.


In "Montana," the line is "as she reached out for the sunlight in a pink Ohio shirt." I've had a bunch of people ask me about that one already, so there it is.


Amen.